Four children who were victims of the Israeli-Palestinian war, between the ages of 14 months and 17 years, arrived in the Swiss capital, Geneva, coming from the Gaza Strip to receive medical treatment in Switzerland, and to keep them away from the imminent danger in which they live, at the initiative of a doctor residing in Geneva of Palestinian origins and through cooperation between three non-governmental organizations.
The children are scheduled to undergo surgical operations in a private clinic, as part of non-governmental cooperation to help children affected by the war.
These include two sisters, aged six and seven, who suffered fractures, second- and third-degree burns with skin necrosis, and a 16-year-old boy who needed plastic surgery after losing his leg in an explosion, according to the French-language public broadcaster Swiss Radio and Television (RTS).
This initiative represents the result of a collaborative effort by three non-governmental organizations: Children’s Right for Healthcare, Solidarity Caravans, and the International Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations.
This distinguishes it from government-led efforts in countries such as France and Italy, which earlier pledged to take in 50 and 100 children, respectively. The International Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations has launched a fundraising campaign to mobilize support for this initiative.
Dr. Raouf Salti, founder and president of Children’s Right for Healthcare, and urological surgeon based in Geneva, was a key player in launching this initiative. Salti was born in Damascus, Syria, to parents who were Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war. He completed his studies in France, where he practiced medicine, before moving to Switzerland at the end of 2011. His deep-rooted relationship with Palestine and its people is shaped, to a large extent, by his family’s history of displacement.
In 2018, Salti found himself trapped in Gaza while on a mission at Al-Shifa Hospital amid the outbreak of war. The destruction and loss of life he witnessed affected him. “When I see what is happening there now, I put myself in the shoes of a little boy or girl and imagine what he or she is feeling,” he tells Swiss Info.
On November 24, 2023, Salti traveled to Cairo to meet with Yvonne Baumann, the Swiss ambassador to Egypt. He says: “The Ambassador’s cooperation was instrumental in making this project possible, as it is the first time that male and female children from Gaza have been brought to a European country to receive medical treatment.”
Within a few days, Salti will return to Egypt, to transport six more wounded children to Switzerland.
He describes the selection of children as a meticulous process, and stresses that the main criterion was the quality of medical interventions that Salti could provide. It also required continuous coordination with the relevant authorities in Gaza.
The children are currently staying with host families. Each of them has been scheduled for medical interventions, and Raouf Salti’s project aims not only to provide medical treatment, but also to seek to provide these children with a way out of the “horrific prison” of the conditions in which they live, and to encourage other European countries to provide assistance.
Salti said in his interview with Swiss Info: “I urge Europe to distinguish between humanity and politics,” calling on other countries to “stop watching silently and start helping.”
In the same context, Tawfiq Shamma, a doctor at the Union of Syrian Medical Relief Organizations, who helped bring the four Palestinian boys and girls to Geneva, expressed his hope that more injured boys and girls would follow.
He also expressed his desire, during an interview with the French-language Swiss public radio and television channel, for Switzerland to pave the way for other European countries. He stated that he believes that caring for wounded boys and girls should become a “principle.”
“We are on the verge of our humanity,” he said. “Baby girls and boys are dying due to lack of medical care.”
The wounded and their mothers were received by the Palestine’s Ambassador to Switzerland, Ibrahim Khraishi, and his deputy, Khalousi Bsieso.
Khraishi said: “It is a first step. More than 66,000 citizens were injured in the Gaza Strip, and at least 30 hospitals were out of service. There are 16 hospitals remaining, but none of them are fully functioning. Today we need the help of the whole world and a ceasefire will allow us to evacuate more of the wounded.”
It is noteworthy that the Israeli war on Gaza has led to the death of 28,000 Palestinians so far, including 12,000 children, according to estimates by the Palestinian Ministry of Health.